Israel does not want this fight, but Hamas needs it. Hamas is pushing the fight, and answered an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire to which Israel had already agreed with an escalation of rocket fire. There is much that divides the two adversaries, yet they are both striving for self-preservation in this war: Israel to preserve its people and its way of life, and Hamas to preserve its ability to exist and function as the leader of violent opposition to Israel and the Jewish people. As the world looks for a way to end this war, the choice the international community must make is whose preservation is worth supporting.
Hamas is in the fight to restore its bank accounts and its credibility, both of which suffered tremendously during the eighteen-month ceasefire it enforced between late 2012 and early July 2014. Hamas lost a lot of financial support and standing during that period and could no longer withstand a state of calm; this war with Israel is for fundraising and credibility boosting. The painfully high number of Palestinians cajoled into being human shields for Hamas’s rockets is all the proof that is needed to understand Hamas’s rockets are not about peace or the Palestinian cause.
This latest war between Israel and Hamas may appear similar to previous battles, but it is not. In the wars of 2008-2009 and 2012, Hamas’s weapons and its threat were its crude Qassam and Grad missiles with ranges that put relatively few Israelis in harm’s way. When they did strike a building or car, the damage was relatively minor. In short, dealing with them was relatively easy for Israel. But Israel knew worse was to come, and so it built the Iron Dome rocket defense system to pacify the threat peacefully.
Today, Iron Dome is earning its keep and proving a wise investment. Yet everything about Hamas’s rockets have improved since 2012, now making Iron Dome merely an intermediate step towards greater defense efforts. Hamas now builds the M-75 and M-302 rockets in Gaza, which carry larger payloads further, putting virtually all of Israel’s population centers in harm’s way. The infrastructure of tunnels and underground rocket launchers in Gaza being used are a first and are not destroyed by air without putting civilians in the line of fire; this is why there is a ground incursion.
Further, Hamas’s rocket infrastructure and tactics bear a striking resemblance to the infrastructure and tactics used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Let there be no doubt: the relationship between Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is again formidable.
Israel showed great restraint before responding to nearly a week of rocket barrages. As Israel finally responds after having suffered terror longer than any reasonable nation should, there is legitimate concern about the loss of Palestinian life in Gaza. Israel goes to incredible lengths to avoid civilian casualties by warning people near a target to leave the area prior to deciding whether the risk of civilian casualties outweigh destroying the target. Hamas is going to similarly incredible lengths to ensure civilian life is lost. It is no secret that Hamas puts its terror assets underneath civilian centers and encourages civilians to remain as deterrents against Israel’s counter-terror operations. This is, without a doubt, a war crime and a crime against humanity. Although it has been said before, it is as poignant as ever: Israel uses rockets to protect its people; Hamas uses its people to protect its rockets.
Hamas’s new rockets and rocket infrastructure are game changers. The old status quo of asymmetrical power between Israel and Hamas is effectively dead, and has been replaced by a new status quo in which Hamas is capable of putting Israel in as much danger as a country’s professional military, but does so with the sinister aim of killing civilians.
Until this war, the world had been lulled into believing a weakened Hamas had insufficient desire and ability to draw Israel into another war. What it ignored was the growing threat of a proud group with shrinking options and better offensive military capabilities. We can no longer ignore this reality.
Hamas’s rockets are a game changer, putting more Israelis and Gazans than ever before into harms way and giving unprecedented strength and leverage to a group set on putting peace between Israelis and Palestinians out of reach. The world has already been fooled once by a shameful Hamas; if it continues to ignore the real threat of Hamas’s rocket arsenal, the world will bear the shame as Israelis and Palestinians pay the ultimate price.
Menenberg is a fellow at the Israel Allies Foundation.